Friday, March 02, 2007

Postmortem: Arcade Fire "Neon Bible"

"Between the click of the light and the start of the dream"

That comes from "No Cars Go," the best track on Arcade Fire's second Long Player, Neon Bible. It's a curious passage, really--and, essentially, how I have always viewed the band: the quiet calm that occurs before something huge happens. It could be tragic or happy, but there is always that moment. And that quiet moment isn't really quiet at all; it's deafening with its implications. For lack of a better description, I've always thought of Arcade Fire as the music you would hear in the waiting room for heaven. Ridiculous, right? I'm not so sure. To clarify, I'm not implying that their music is divine or angelic. In fact, it is nervous and sorrowful; unsure of what is to come or what to expect, and that's the key. Arcade Fire are always able to interject these bizarre feelings of hopeful hopelessness in you that initially appear laughable but find a way to stay with you; they find a way to comfort you.

Neon Bible takes its title from John Kennedy Toole's first (previously unpublished) novel which he penned at the tender age of sixteen. In certain ways, you could see the parallels between the novel and the album. Not so much for similarity in story or theme, but within the forgivable liberties they both take with human drama. While Kennedy was merely a boy when he wrote the book, melodrama flowed through him like water onto a canvas. As any fan of the group can attest, Arcade Fire are no different.

Their version of Neon Bible isn't what one would call a concept album, but that's not to say their isn't a story here. Where Funeral was very much rooted in reality and mortality, Neon Bible takes its cue from dreamscapes and sinister fantasies. Even though songs like, say, "Intervention" or, "(Antichrist Television Blues)" seem to play out like a working class requiems, and there is a fairly strong anti-war sentiment all over the album, Butler helps keep the presentation of any themes throughout Neon Bible almost exclusively residing in the clouds. It makes for a compelling experience because, while it thematically exhausts all of Arcade Fire's old tricks, it forces you to spot the new ones.

As big and as borderline farcical (in terms of dramatics) as anything Arcade Fire have delivered in the past, Neon Bible, if not their best work, is certainly their most cerebral. Musically, it tries to take some new direction utilizing a myriad of instrumentation that would seem out of place in almost any other band that knew how to spell "s-u-b-t-l-e." Here, however, it tends to add some welcome flavor to the already successful Funeral formula. The war Arcade Fire wages, though, is always one of the heart; and that heart is always delivered by Win Butler. At this point, it's not even that emotes as much as he, himself, becomes exhilarating sadness. That sounds weird and it IS weird. Oddly, it all usually works with this band. There are certain elements that simply make Arcade Fire who they are: unintentionally campy dramatics is just one of them. The brilliance of their staying power, lies in the fact that because the silliness is unintentional, it becomes all the more endearing to self satisfying artistic types who find emotion laughable. This particular element is delivered in abundance on Neon Bible.

This isn't the best album of the year, and probably not the best album Arcade Fire will end up releasing. It does, however, have moments of uncommon beauty and charming, stilted emotion that helps keep it close to your heart. It doesn't have quite the resonance that Funeral initially had, but, then again, neither does Funeral. As a separate, cohesive work, Neon Bible stands on it's own quite nicely, and is certainly destined to be one of the most memorable release of 2007. Arcade Fire have created a crowning achievement of pain and atonement. Between the click of the light and the start of the dream, Arcade Fire want to ease the transition for you as best as they can.


"What does she know? She's a Murphy. Bunch of mud farmers and sheep rapists!": 30 Rock

Most years, when February sweeps ends, you get a few days of March to revel in the sweeps, since sweeps begin on the first Thursday of a month and then end on the Wednesday four weeks after that. But since the first Thursday of February this year was February 1, we saw sweeps end Wednesday, exactly on February 28. Depressing!

Or not. March is the time when there's time to watch midseason debuts or catch up on shows that have been backing up the TiVo (I polished off Prison Break today, and should half-watch House over the weekend) or, I dunno, read a book or leave the house to see a film, your pale, ghoulish visage frightening all you see (expect that Zodiac review this weekend, kids).

Fortunately, a few shows are airing through March, largely because their networks aren't confident in their ability to pull in copious amounts of viewers in repeat. Hence, 30 Rock is new until it's replaced for six weeks by Andy Barker, P.I. on March 15 (don't worry, fishsticks, it will be back in April to finish out the season -- Thursdays at 9 on NBC are all new through the end of the year).

Anyway, here's hoping that two weeks not airing opposite new CSI and Grey's Anatomy give this show the ratings it deserves (though with the new ratings sensation Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader? airing opposite, things look grim). And tonight's episode was a fine way for those who've never seen the show to jump in and meet most of the characters (the other writers and Jenna didn't get a lot to do). Heck, even the much-maligned Tracy subplot (featuring him angering some rappers and having to host the Source awards to make do, only doing so as Oprah -- don't ask) was pretty good. And Kenneth got lots to do too!

But the episode belonged to Jack, trying to peddle his awful-tasting wine and taking care of Tracy, and Liz, sparking a relationship with an African-American (played by Wayne Brady), which she tried to get out of, despite his insistence that her desire to break up with him was racist (not that she helped herself any in the matter). Alec Baldwin has been the strongest element of the show from back when it was a shaky pilot, but Tina Fey has really improved her acting. I know she downplays it in interviews and she's essentially playing herself, but her work as the neurotic center of the ensemble is getting better and better.

Other stuff I liked:

--Jack talking about "the Blacks" (the family name of Brady's character) and his discussion of attending movies with Condi Rice.

--Kenneth saying his game was "Boggle."

--Brady singing a ragtime political satire song about Hillary Clinton so gamely (and being completely awful doing it).

--Tracy's loopy, bizarre Oprah impression.

--And, of course, Liz with a gun.

This show feels like it's doing so much right right now that if you haven't seen it yet, try it out next week. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

(A note: Since so few of the shows we cover will be airing in March, we'll be trying out some more non-specific stuff and reviewing some shows we might not otherwise watch.)


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Track Review: Jena Malone and Her Bloodstains, "Tested Dry"

Recording industry underdog, Social Registry's latest addition comes in the form of the would-be Indie cinephiles wet dream: Jena Malone. You remember her: good ol' Donnie Darko's only slightly jilted love interest. Well, she's got a "brand new bag" now and has the hipster nation in her sights. Though, admittedly, the semi-cool thing about it all is that Jena appears fairly oblivious to scene structures and seems to just have a genuine passion for sweetly off-colour, lofi blues romps and freaky little folk numbers seemingly lifted from eight-track basement recordings. It could easily seem like she was trying really hard to pull this "style" off, but it's just all too innocent and breezy to feel that insistent. On "Tested Dry" Jena's eerie trepidations fill the frame with not so much a voice as much as a lilt. Her unsteady vibrato has an unwarranted sense of calm carried along with it. A scratchy little half-bluesy riff follows her in kind; again, not so much playing the blues as much as beguiling with it. For it's half-assed structure alone, "Tested Dry" should be a bad song...but it's not--not by a mile. It's kind of charming, really. Sure, she's a got a little Polly Jean to her, but who doesn't? Karen O? Sure. Again, what's the big deal? There's nothing here that one would call impressive, per se--though, you'd probably have to admit that you wouldn't expect anything this encompassing and, well, sharp coming from her--but it is a welcome distraction from the usual, self-obsessed fare you'd expect in this scenario, and a damn fine tune when all is said and done. Her 7" should be out on Social Registry shortly, preceded by a small tour. I await to see what she has in store for us.


"So, you have something against salmon, do you?": American Idol

by Libby

Tonight's Idol episode was full of "be careful what you wish for moments" for me. More on that later. This episode was also full of wardrobe disfunction from which the judges were not immune. Randy wore a shirt that paisley threw up all over and Paula could evidently find only 2 of the 3 pieces of her brown suede suit circa-1973. But anyway, isn't it all really about the singing? In a word ... no. (note: the women had the same dedication/inspiration theme, but they were all loved ones/relatives and honestly, no one cares)

First off tonight was Gina Glocksen who tried real hard tonight, belting out Heart's "Alone" with the best of them, but never quite proving herself as anything more than middle of the pack material. I agree with the general consensus that to have any staying power in this competition Glocksen needs to embrace her inner (and outer) punk rock princess and bring a different element to the table. Tonight, she just looked confused.

Still inexplicably representing the Inland Empire is Alaina Alexander who made, what may have been, the worst song choice in AI history. Stumbling through "Not Ready to Make Nice" by my beloved Dixie Chicks, Alexander proved that she had 1/1000th of the personality/edge/voice/etc. of Natalie Maines or anyone else for that matter. Everything about this girl is weak: her voice, her personality ... she even looks like a washed out Jennifer Love Hewitt. This made me seriously reconsider my yearning for current song choices by contestants. Ugh. I wish I could wash my brain.

Everyone's favorite (except me), LaKisha Jones, had a good, solid performance tonight, though nothing spectacular. Singing "Midnight Train to Georgia" was a smart move, as it was a song she was obviously comfortable with, but still ... I just don't get the appeal. Additionally, I'm with Simon as far as her weird-ass get-up tonight. Seriously, it looked like she was wearing a prison orange burlap sack. Not cool.

Melinda Doolittle
. I ragged on her last week, thought she just wasn't my cup of tea ... but this week, count me among the converted. You hear tell each year of defining Idol performances, and I have to imagine that this was one of those. Doolittle's rendition of "My Funny Valentine", a song I generally loathe, was unbelievable and goosebump-inducing. I'm a believer.

I can't help but laugh when I think of Antonella Barba's crappy luck. Funnier still, perhaps, is the sabotage she induces on herself. It would be hard for a talented singer to perform between Doolittle and Sparks (Sloan and Sparks last week, for that matter) but for someone of Barba's caliber ... well, it just doesn't seem fair. But it doesn't end there! Barba, obviously delusional, actually thinks it's a song choice improvement to attempt to sing a Celine Dion song this week. Dear girl, if you can't manage Aerosmith, you shouldn't try Celine. Which may be the weirdest sentence I've ever typed. But I digress ... after a piss poor showing, good ol' Meadow Soprano rears her ugly head comparing herself to Jennifer Hudson and attempting to show up Simon. Please America, put this girl out of her misery.

Jordin Sparks,
continues to astound, considering the fact that she's a mere 17 years old. Sparks chose some old school Christina Aguilera and did a fine job with it. It wasn't remarkable, but considering her age, she's still someone to keep your eye on. Additionally, she looked lovely tonight.

Stephanie Edwards
is decidedly meh. If you remember last week, I described her as "Fantasia-lite". THIS week, Randy described her performance as "Beyonce-lite" which leads me to believe that Edwards is yet another cipher in the competition. Performing in what appeared to be a nightgown, she looked good, sounded okay, and yet, I struggle to really remember her offering at all.

Harkening back to last week, one may recall my enjoyment of Leslie Hunt, and while that's still true, I've realized some disturbing things about my fascination. In truth, it seems to be borne out of the fact that Hunt appears to have been plucked out of some horrid sitcom from the 80's where she played the wacky next-door neighbor. Plus, she has the crazy eyes. Harkening back to last episode, one may recall me bemoaning the performance of "Feelin' Good" by a man and thinking it would be so much better performed by a woman. What I should have clarified was the fact that it would be better sung by a good, non-crazy woman. Hunt, was not terrible, just odd, which does not bode especially well for her Idol days.

Haley Scarnato
has gone completely insane. I say this because that's the only explanation for her singing a Whitney Houston song and expecting the judges to be kind. That, and she stalked around the stage while singing in a sort of hyper-kinetic, pole-dancer frenzy. Scarnato unfortunately got the "better than last week ..." feedback, with the unspoken being "... but you still suck."

Rounding up the women tonight, was Sabrina Sloan, a tricksy hobbit, if ever there was, who was also a pitchy hobbit tonight. She has a big voice, and as I mentioned before, knows how to play the game, but I'm not sure how much more there is to her.
Analysis is still tough this early in the game and everyone needs a few more performances under their belts before trajectory clears.

Other fun notes:
The Human Beatbox (Blake Lewis) is not a good clapper, which seems impossible, but the video doesn't lie. Chris Sligh also appears unable to clap, but he's probably just distracted by thinking about his inordinately hot wife.

Alaina Alexander and Antonella Barba

Alaina Alexander and Haley Scarnato

Your guess is as good as mine.


"Let's look death in the face and say, 'Whatever, man!'": Lost

Man, there are a lot of things to not like about Lost, but episodes like this one aren't among them. This is the sort of thing the show did so well at various intervals in its first two seasons before the first episodes of this year were an unrelenting parade of doom and gloom. This one, which could almost deserve the moniker "joyful romp," almost didn't feel like a Lost episode at times, aside from dogs going off into the jungle and finding human arms and such. Rather, it felt like one of those strained indie film comedies that you end up loving anyway because the performers are really into it and the script's got some good jokes. It's almost enough to make me forgiving of last week's go-nowhere, do-nothing Jack hour.

What pushed the episode beyond that strained indie film feel was that it was centered around Jorge Garcia's Hurley. Most of the characters on Lost have been written inconsistently in the past, often just given a few lines of dialogue per episode or wandering around in barely connected plotlines. Somehow, Garcia and the Lost writers have made Hurley a palpable presence, and he's been the one character who hasn't wandered all over the map in service of the overarching story. He's always been sort of archly mordant, a glum presence amidst all the sunshine, sure that death is around every corner. Despite this, he's one of the most loyal people on the island, and everyone seems to be his friend. A lot of this is due to Garcia's performance, to be honest, but the writers seem to enjoy writing for Hurley and giving him wisecracks.

The episode centered around Hurley's discovery of an old van in the middle of the jungle (he was led to it by Vincent the dog, who had retrieved the arm off a corpse in the van) and his attempts to get it running again. It was all a little stupid, but Hurley's rationale (the islanders need to have fun) at least wasn't completely insane, as rationales on this show can be. The conclusion, involving Sawyer and Jin pushing the van down a hill and Hurley and Charlie (the two cursed characters) sitting in the van to try to get it to start before dashing against some rocks was charming, in its sort-of-stupid way. That final series of shots of the guys having fun driving the van around that verdantly green field verged on the truly great. Linking Hurley with Charlie (who's recently learned that death is imminent) was a smart choice, as was opening the episode in the little graveyard. Monologues delivered to graves are cliched, but Garcia's a good enough actor to make it work, and the final shot, showing the small collection of graves and the fence the castaways built around them was a haunting one.

It wasn't just Garcia. The other actors were good in this too, as though not having to glower all the time freed them. In particular, Josh Holloway's Sawyer popped, though Dominic Monaghan had a lot of fun as Charlie too (and, honestly, when was the last time you could say the word "fun" in a sentence about THAT character?). Even the dog turned in a fine performance. The only big disappointments were Naveen Andrews and Terry O'Quinn who seem sadly wasted this season.

Not to say that this was a perfect episode. The flashbacks, with Cheech Marin as Hurley's dad, were a little repetitive (even if the meteor destroying Mr. Cluck's was awesome -- one of the best effects the show has had in a while), as the flashbacks on this show so often are. And Kate's big secret was completely predictable (and why would she keep that she was going to Rousseau a secret from Sayid, who's best pals with the jungle lady?), but, all in all, I was happy with this one.

Still, I can see where others would be angered. Wishing you got more answers? Take it to the comments!


"That's a little trick I learned on Magnum, P.I.": Friday Night Lights

After the greatness of I Think We Should Have Sex, this episode felt a bit like a filler episode, conceived to advance a few plotlines slowly and stall a few others. It's not like it was a bad episode (I'm not sure an episode of this show COULD be bad at this point), but the story emphases weren't the ones I'm most interested in. Namely, we got a lot of Buddy Garrity and a lot of the Lyla/Jason relationship and a lot of Tyra trying to make up with her mom. It's not to say that I don't like these storylines (or Smash and his girlfriend -- the other major plot thread), but I don't think they can carry the balance of the episode.

Let's start with Buddy, who's the show's one rather cartoonish character. I'm completely aware that people who get this invested in high school sports (to the detriment of everything else in their lives), but something about the way this character is written or played feels too buffoonish in a universe of verisimilitude. It's not that Buddy never works -- he works quite well in scenes shared with his daughter, Lyla, in fact -- but the scenes where he pesters the coach about the team and hounds him with questions always verge uncomfortably on feeling like the show that we all feared this might be -- a high school football coach and his attempts to deal with his wacky, overbearing neighbors. Though it gave me the line for the post title, I thought Buddy making the notepad etching to discover that Coach Taylor was talking to the TMU guy was sort of ridiculous. Also, I get that he's not a pedophile or anything, but would Coach Taylor and Tami just leave Julie with Buddy that easily? Certainly he's not a good babysitter (as he proved).

The Lyla and Jason pairing is also growing a little tedious, what with their professions of love in every other episode. But I think that's supposed to be the point (nicely hit by Lyla tonight, who pointed out that Jason's doing all of the changing and she's doing very little). I've been the guy trying to assure the girl that just isn't that interesting anymore that his love isn't going anywhere, and Scott Porter played that scene with just the right hint of insincerity. I liked the idea of Lyla being upset at the party with Herc and the tattoo girl, but Minka Kelly didn't make the anger burn quite enough.

Tyra tried to help her mom cope with Buddy dumping her (leading, of course, to Buddy crashing with the Taylors), and the party scenes were all right, even if Tyra's mom falling through a glass table was a little ridiculous. Julie got in trouble yet again, and Tyra's scene with Tami was a highlight (and when Connie Britton isn't nominated for an Emmy, it will be saddening) in the way it twisted and turned and ran through with raw emotion.

Finally, Smash found out that his girlfriend had emotional problems and decided to go off of her medication. I'm not sure where all of this is going (and the scene where she recited poetry in the diner hit all different kinds of moving, showcasing the series' dedication to what may as well be called "cringe drama," highlighting the moments of life most of us would rather look away from), but it's an interesting development, and it makes her long absence more complicated than just a pregnancy or drug use.

I think what the episode missed most was having the Taylors at its center. I'd grown so used to seeing Kyle Chandler and Britton's faces intersect with every plot line that when they didn't, it was subconsciously off-putting. It was nice to see Coach Taylor get a chance at the collegiate level (and the show would do well to expand its other characters, certainly), but the cliffhanger felt a bit forced -- how do they realistically get him to turn down the job anyway?

Also, if I were a Dillon Panther fan, I would have died of anxiety by now.

Gah! Only four episodes left (in the season hopefully)!


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"I will not flatten!" - Prison Break

Another entertaining episode this week. On close examination, few of the storylines moved forward in any significant way, but nonetheless this was a solid forty minutes that built up to what should be a pivotal offering next week.

Michael, Lincoln and Sarah listened to the incriminating tape they got their hands on last episode and reacted with flat-out glee. Just kidding; although they did look a little less grave than usual. This is the evidence you’ve been looking for all season, guys – have a party or something! Frustratingly, the audience was not allowed to hear the recording, which after last episode’s ‘cliff-hanger’ felt like a bit of a cop-out. After struggling to find a trustworthy legal mind, eventually the team got their hands on an expert, who had bad news. Long story short, the tape is useless in court – although still fair game for blackmail. This was yet another example of Prison Break taking a whole episode to reveal something it could have dealt with in one or two scenes. Frustrating, yes, but at least it was building towards a long overdue confrontation with President Reynolds (Patricia Wettig) next episode. Yes, she’s finally returning, although I suspect it will only be for the one episode.

There was other stuff going on, of course. Sucre and Maricruz arrived at his aunt’s house, had sex and…erm. C-Note turned out to be pretty useless to Mahone and his ever-grinning superior Mr. Kim, so they decide (rather rashly) to blackmail him into commiting suicide. I found this especially difficult to get past. Surely C-Note could prove useful to them in some way, if not now then at some point in the near future? Pretty silly stuff. At least it made for a good cliff-hanger, as C-Note tied a noose around his neck and threw himself off his cell bench. Still, we saw nothing beyond that, so anything could still happen. Finally, T-Bag stole the identity of a psychiatrist look-alike and hopped on a plane to Bangkok, but one with a layover in Chicago, the current location of most of the show’s characters. Coincidence? I THINK NOT. A re-appearance for L.J. Burrows was unwelcome, but more welcome is the recent removal of Marshall Allman from the main credits. His character never found a place in the show’s blueprint, so I’m glad they seem to have pretty much closed the door on him for now.

Once again, the most interesting scenes belonged to Agent Kellerman. His reconciliation with his sister was frustratingly short, and the revelation that his parents were abusive/crazy was pretty weak, but Adelstein played it subtly and effectively. Now he’s positioning himself to assassinate President Reynolds à la Lee Harvey Oswald, and taking into consideration Wettig’s commitment to Brothers and Sisters he may well get his wish. In truth ‘Wash’ was little more than build-up, build-up before next week’s hopeful pay off, but it kept my interest.


"I love grandmas": American Idol

by Libby

Another night, another episode of AI. Let us not speak of my predictions of last week, as nothing good could come from it. This episode kicks off with me wondering why in God's name they feel the need to divide the field of competitors equally between the sexes. Here's a thought: let's decide the top 12 of the talent show, by, oh, I dunno ... talent? Eh, maybe it's just me ...

The theme of tonight's episode was inspiration, as in, who in your life inspires you, which of course, simply devolved into a dedication-fest. Lovely.

Kicking off tonight was Phil Stacey. Good, old, bald, Phil supports the troops, seeing as he is one. In fact, Phil is enrolled in the Navy. PLEASE LET HIM SING "IN THE NAVY."


No. Phil instead sings "Missing You." Again, this is a performance that's just so-so until the rockin' chorus! Or something. It's not terrible but it's very 20 years ago. Blah. It's as though the contestants have no idea what year it is. Disturbing. The judges are vaguely approving, and to be honest, Phil doesn't deserve anything more.

The rest of the night is full of inter-familial dedications: LAME. Blah, blah, blah, I love my family.

Jared Cotter loves his parents. Congratulations. Less impressive than that, is his lackluster performance of "Let's Get It On." Simon is absolutely right in comparing this to some kind of crap-ass Love Boat song and dance. However, this does spawn THE Seacrest quote of the night: "Heh, the things we've all done to that song ... memories ... yeah ... " Seriously, has this man ever had sex? This is the least convincing innuendo EVER. Moving on.

A.J. Tabaldo also loves his parents, which is slightly awesome, because in the old pictures, his father resembles a hispanic Ray Romano. Sweet. Then begins the song-gender-confusion of the night, when Tabaldo sings a vaguely unsettling version of Nina Simone's "Feelin' Good." Despite Cowell's disturbed reaction to the song, the judge's where generally appreciative that it wasn't the crapfest they got last week. Simon even goes so far to say it was "nearly very good" which is the nice way of saying "almost not sucktastic."

Sanjaya Malakar, aka "the Indian David Cassidy" dedicated his song to his dead grandfather. Evidently, by choosing his grandfather's favorite song. "Steppin' Out with My Baby" was a strange choice, especially from a weak-voiced, teenager like Malakar. But don't worry, Sanjaya, this song will KILL on the nursing home circuit.

Chris Sligh fans are eventually going to hunt me down and hurt me. Because honestly, I couldn't even concentrate on Sligh's performance of "Trouble" because it was dedicated to his insanely hot wife. Now, it's not that his wife is drop-dead gorgeous but rather that there is a serious attractiveness disparity between the two which I could explain, but editor's would never let me publish. Ultimately, Slight is just ok and is more notable because he is different from the other contestants and sometimes just that is enough.

Nick Pedro loves his girlfriend and the gender confusion marches on. Pedro goes old school like the rest of the crop, because evidently, that's the only choice? I'm so confused. "Fever" I typically associate with female singers, and while Pedro is an okay singer, he spends much of the song atonal and off-beat. Still, the judges are pleased that it wasn't as bad as last week. Now there's something to be proud of.

Blake Lewis loves his parents, but as I mentioned last week, his parents are awesome, thus, this is acceptable. Lewis breaks out "Virtual Insanity" which is a welcome break from the craptacular spectacle this episode has exhibited thus far. Lewis is a departure. He is upbeat and modern and utterly different from the rest of the competitors. Randy and Simon are thrilled by the song and Simon, as per usual, disagrees. Par for the course. Lewis is my favorite, easily, and while not the best singer, he's original, different, and entertaining.

Brandon Rogers has quite the touching dedication to his deceased grandma. Then he whips out Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time." Ugh. Strange. It's very touchy-feely and not very distinct. It wasn't showy and Simon is right when he says reiterates that this is a competition and the point is to distinguish oneself. Rogers didn't do that tonight. Yearbook pictures or no.

Chris Richardson also had a super sweet dedication to his grandma and then performs a song with the lyrics, "I could be the one to take you home ..." Grandma. *shudders* Beyond that slight creepiness, Richardson really turned it out. His performance of "Geek in the Pink" was, if nothing else, distinct and memorable.

Sundance Head suffers from several of the episodes recurring flaws. He picked an old school song (at one point does old school become so common that it's just 'school' again?) has a disproportionately hot wife and is overly praised for not being as horrid as last week. Seriously? What is going on here? Head sings/howls "Mustang Sally" and it's not bad. But again, it's not necessarily good, either. Head singing always makes me think of the phrase "White Man Singing" ... kind of the "Dead Man Walking" of AI. He'll go for awhile, but this is no Idol.

Sucked: Sanjaya Malakar and Nick Pedro

Sayonara: Jared Cotter and Nick Pedro

Now watch the tweenagers prove me wrong.


"I'm just trying to figure out which Gilmore Girl you are": Veronica Mars

Hey! Who's that guy?!

Anyway, with the dismal ratings this show is getting and the fact that this will be its third straight season on the bubble, I'm just hoping that Rob Thomas and company have inserted plenty of our favorite characters into the final five episodes. If there's a complaint to be made about this season, it's that the characters other than Veronica, Keith and Logan have been brutally underserved. I know that most of this has to do with budgetary restrictions, but it still smarts to have what amounted to this whole Dean O'Dell arc unfold with minimal contributions from Wallace (one of the show's most enduring characters) and Piz (who's come on strong in this, his first season).

It also hurt that the Dean O'Dell arc had to lose one episode, so the mystery's solution had to be truncated into this hour, making the resolution incredibly wordy. While it was fun to watch Veronica catch the perpetrator up in his own logic (and seeing the perpetrator's speech about improvisation turn against him), it also was a scene that almost became too cumbersome. Fortunately, Kristen Bell and James Jordan managed to find a way through the density, and the scene almost approached the climax of an Agatha Christie novel (and congrats to Veronica for finally questioning who she suspected was the murderer in a non-secluded setting). It wasn't quite all of the suspects in the drawing room with the detective drawing her final conclusions, but it worked in spite of itself (and I suppose one could argue that over-expository closing scenes are a pitfall of the genre itself).

Other than that, it was a muted conclusion for a show that often goes in for action movie theatrics (especially for the conclusion of what looks to be the last big mystery arc ever, regardless of whether or not the show gets a fourth season). There was even time for a little soap opera excitement in between the crime solving, with Logan and Parker growing closer and closer. . .and neither wanting to hurt Veronica (awwwww).

Most of the episode though was dedicated to Veronica and Tim trying to figure out who killed the dean and finding themselves drawn ever more to Landry and/or the dean's wife. It's too bad that Landry has now left the show (and if you haven't seen the episode, I'm not really spoiling anything there) because he was both a compelling foil and friend for Veronica. Then, so was the dean.

The show has been really good of late at mixing up the comedy and the noir, and tonight's episode was no exception. It bounced effortlessly from Veronica one-liners to that creepy image of the body of a woman washed up in the surf, neck twisted at a disturbing angle. It wasn't the best this show could be (or even the best it's been recently), but it did enough well and closed up the arc well enough that I'll give it a passing grade.

(Incidentally, Rob Thomas said that there would be a red herring that would go unexplained due to the compressed nature of the arc. I'm not sure what he was referring to. Any ideas?)


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"My spectacles!": How I Met Your Mother

I wasn't sure how How I Met Your Mother would do a show about a beloved car in New York City. If the show were set in the Midwest or the South or Los Angeles or something, sure, but New York is one of the most public transit-y of public-transit-y cities. Certainly people there own cars and use them from time to time, but from most accounts, the subway and other mass transit systems are the way to go.

But HIMYM, as it does, found a way of tying in all of the characters to Marshall's Fiero, which hit a pothole and died at 199,999.3 miles, just short of Marshall's personal goal. One of the best things about Mother's flashback-laden episodes (and the ones that play with structure) is the way they bury jokes in earlier scenes that will only make sense on the second go-round or in retrospect. The first scene, featuring Ted and Marshall driving somewhere, was full of jokes that only made sense when we knew the full history of the Fiero (the missing cigars, The Proclaimers, etc.), and that made the scene a nice little preview of what was to come.

On the other hand, this way with bending time may be one of the reasons Mother isn't a bigger hit than it is (the chief among them being the network it's on and the audience it's pitched to). Because the early scenes are chock-full o' punchlines that will only make sense with the setup, which comes later (effectively making the setup the punchline), the show's "joke momentum" only really gets rolling about a third of the way into an episode. The writers try to fix this with one-liners, but their one-liners are never as strong as their character-based stuff, so it often feels like it takes a while to get an episode going (when rewatching the first season on DVD, I was struck by how much many episodes were improved by knowing the setups to the punchlines). This curious structure makes HIMYM one of the most delightful shows on television if you can get into its groove, but if you can't figure it out, it must be baffling.

If you are in the groove though, it can be quite funny. I don't think Libby laughed harder at anything this television season that wasn't Paul Reubens in 30 Rock when Barney took his driving lesson from Ted and had a "crash" into a bush after nearly running over a dog (trust me, it was funnier than it sounds). And the fact that Robin knew exactly what to do to clean up spilled Thai food was funny too, especially with the window breaking payoff.

But I especially liked how The Proclaimers "500 Miles" wove through the episode (the cassingle got stuck in Marshall's player), especially since a younger, dorkier me thought that was the coolest song ever. It tied together the young uber-dork Marshall with college Marshall (and pseudo-intellectual Ted, who was hilarious) and even Robin and Lily's adventure. It was the best kind of runner -- never calling too much attention to itself, but hilarious every time, especially when the song came back around to being good again.

Though not a lot happened in this episode, it was consistently funny, and it had strong ensemble work (particularly liked the ever-growing pile of cranes and Barney saying, "Aw, nurtz"). That means it was yet another solid episode of one of TV's most consistent shows.


Murder Pop: Of Montreal "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?"

Before hearing this album, my previous exposure to Of Montreal was decidedly limited. I saw them at a club in Orlando once. I found them charming, if not odd, but never really gave them much thought after that. Perhaps there is something wrong with me. I've heard a lot since then how amazing their live show is supposed to be. I don't know; I guess it just didn't leave an impression on me. Oh, and I think I liked a single off of their last LP that they played on the XM radio at work a few times. Anyway, their latest lauded work is marginally more memorable than anything I've heard from them before--limited as that may be. In fact, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? is just about the strangest piece of post-pop I've heard in a great long while. A masterpiece of geekdom, really, it is also probably the best album I've heard so far this year.

A loose concept album, it takes the separation of front man Kevin Barnes from his now reconciled wife and traverses on a triumphantly subversive trail filled with deep-seated viciousness and mild forms of redemption that surprise and comfort around every corner. The songs are criminally catchy, Wilson-esque romps through genre fusing that are actually impressive as opposed to simply trying to be impressive. It has this distinct identity that would be borderline over-bearing if the emotional resonance that the album is able to carefully instill wasn't so delicately applied. It is a rare occurrence of the sound being larger than subject matter, which is hardly ever the case with your garden-variety break-up album.

The lyrical journeys Barnes takes us on only take a backseat to the album's overall composition. Everything is just loose to enough to have the appearance of control but the possibility of chaos at any moment. And when that catharsis comes, it is both earned and welcome. The album's best track, "The Past Is A Grotesque Animal" speaks volumes to this point. It's monotonous style and layered landscape go on for so long that you simply forget the song it started as; anger and bitterness take hold of the track, and it really only seems like the natural progression. "We want our film to be beautiful, not realistic!" There is never anything too overblown here, and when there is, you want it to be overblown. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? digs its claws into you as expertly as any album I've heard in years. Cheesy as it sounds, it's like you become FRIENDS. "Let's tear this place apart. Let's tear the fucking house apart." I'm right behind you, Kevin.


"I'm not gonna nuke the dog!": Heroes

Heroes had what was easily its best hour ever last night, with "Company Man". I can think of a few reasons why the episode was so good. First, it focused on just the one situation, with only three regulars (Claire, HRG and Matt) involved, which means we didn't have to suffer through any boring satellite stories involving some of the less interesting characters (*cough*Mohinder/Niki*cough*). Second, it had a hell of a story, alternating between Matt and nuclear-man Ted taking the Bennett family hostage and flashbacks to HRG's life in his mysterious company, including a partnership with Claude and chatting in Japanese with George Takei. Third, it shed light on questions fans have been asking--not enough to give the whole game away, but there was a nice amount of answers here. And it just struck the right balances--high tension, cool use of everyone's powers, family drama--and it never really dragged. It's not like the episode was a masterpiece, but it's definitely the pinnacle of the jazzy, pulpy entertainment Heroes has been gunning for since it started.

Let's start off with the flashbacks--nicely spaced out, swish-looking in black and white, and featuring Eric Roberts, who adds to the genre cache Heroes has been seeking from its special guest stars (he's no Chris Eccleston or George Takei, but he was the Master in Doctor Who once!). Probably the biggest revelation here was that Hiro's dad is involved, if not spearheading, the hero-tracking organization (if so, did he cotton on that Hiro has superpowers from his ranting when they met the other week?). But the idea of the hero/normal pair and Claude's comradeship with HRG was a cool one--I had assumed HRG has captured Claude, but this is way more interesting. Plus, Claude got to use his powers properly for the first time, gathering information by being all invisible. The flashbacks, of course, framed the central theme of the episode, HRG's evolution as a father, from nervous at the very idea of children 15 years ago to putting his life on the line to protect Claire today. Not spectacularly original, but Jack Coleman did a great job, capitalizing on what he's been doing so well all season, and it was great to see it pay off for him here. I just hope having his memory wiped is only a temporary setback for HRG, because losing him altogether would be a disaster for the show.

In the present day situation, the idea of putting Ted Sprague in a hostage situation was great, seeing as he is a ticking time bomb, both emotionally and physically. I knew he wasn't going to go completely nuclear yet (Peter still has to leech his powers) but the semi-atomic show he put on was great anyway, especially the resolution with the crazy makeup/effects work on Claire. It's worrying, the amount of punishment they dish out on her. Even Parkman, a character I have reservations about (played by an actor I love), was well-utilized, his powers coming quite in handy in the hostile situation. Also, the resolution was something I'd been hoping on for ages--Claire leaving Odessa and hopefully getting more in the mix with the other Heroes (i.e. going to New York). Her standalone stuff has been the best of the show, but it's definitely time to move on for her.

The final flashback scene, where HRG got his glasses, was a nice cherry on top of a great episode--just the right kind of geeky and self-referential, but still honestly touching (although HRG sure did wait a while to let Claire know she was adopted). One more new ep next week, and then no Heroes for a while, so let's hope it's as much of a doozy as this one was.


Monday, February 26, 2007

"Barging into a men's room isn't worried. It's obsessed.": 24

So I missed about ten minutes of this in the middle, thanks to a power outage. I've managed to piece together what happened in the gap, but if I don't comment on something you particularly liked in there, let me know in the comments.

Not the best episode of 24 ever (and far from the best season, it's becoming clear), but Charles Logan (the disgraced ex-president) was good enough to give the episode a bit of a boost, thanks largely to his uneasy chemistry with Jack Bauer. The writers played the Logan card well, and I hope they don't kill him off. I can't imagine how they'll get him to the end of the season without redeeming him (something which should not happen), but I do hope that they manage to get him there, because he and Jack make a fun team.

Other than that, the episode had its moments, but it wasn't as strong as 24 can be. Ending with an explosion was OK (if passe for this show), but I do hope they haven't killed Assad, who's one of the best new characters the show added this season. Alexander Siddig has added a lot to his scenes, and his partnership with Jack was the best thing about the first four episodes (aside from the nuclear bomb twist at the end of episode four -- speaking of which, what happened to that?). It looks like Assad sacrificed his life to save the president, and I'm not sure that's a fair trade. Might have been more fun to see Assad try to convince everyone he wasn't behind the bomb, all evidence to the contrary, then try to uncover the conspirators in President Palmer's midst. Still, could Chad Lowe sound ANY more like Rob Lowe?

The CTU scenes were, once again, the frustrating weak link (though it seems that I probably missed the bulk of them in my outage gap). I love seeing Chloe, but she's been saddled with a ridiculous storyline, and her concern over Morris (quoted above) is the disappointing story in every episode. I realize it's hard to wed office politics to this format, so why not send Chloe out and about again? So many of her great moments involve her out in the middle of the fight, whether that involves saving the world on a hotel WiFi connection or taking out terrorists with a machine gun. Get Chloe out from behind the desk!

So did I miss anything important, compadres?


"Run, daddy, run! She's being surreptitious!": Everybody Hates Chris

If there's one thing I don't like about Everybody Hates Chris, it's that the CW's Web site for the show NEVER updates with new photos, so I always have to grab something that has nothing to do with the episode. Ah well. At least you have something to look at.

But, otherwise, this was another strong episode to close out February sweeps (the show goes into repeats next week). The CW has been airing these out of order (not that you can tell), and I'm not sure why. Perhaps they wanted to save this one for the end of sweeps because they knew it was so strong. I don't know. But the show, which has never been laugh-out-loud funny (its jokes have always been more of the Wonder Years or Cosby Show variety), has suddenly morphed into one of the goofiest shows on TV over the last few weeks. And that's all for the better. This is a talented cast, and they play the comedy well.

My favorite storyline was probably Rochelle finding out that Julius had had a credit card for fifteen years that she hadn't known about it. While the resolution (that he got the card to pay for her wedding ring) was completely predictable, the rest of the storyline was funny, mostly because Tichina Arnold sold her paranoia over uncovering her husband's one secret so well. I particularly liked the bizarre fantasy where Julius had a Latina wife and a set of kids that was just like her family but Hispanic. For some reason, hearing the dinner scene in Spanish was a stitch.

But I liked Chris' storyline, where he tried to get a gold chain for local thug Malvo. Malvo was a good comic character, and Chris' fear at encountering him and his attempts to hide from him (even at dinner) were funny too. Julius' story intersected with this one, and the montage of all of the ways he would come after Malvo was spot-on, especially when he was inserted into the old movie footage on Malvo's TV (holding a baseball bat, naturally).

I don't know why Chris is suddenly just a straight-out comedy, but I like it. So long as the show keeps up the occasional touching moment, I'm okay with it being as funny as it wants to be.



BSG Mondays: Season 3, episode 53, "Dirty Hands"

When the producers of Battlestar Galactica said they wanted to examine the life of the civilians in the fleet, I pictured episodes like the one that aired Sunday night, “Dirty Hands.” The episode’s focus was the grunt workers who keep the fleet running by refining fuel, and the voyage into their refinery, basic as it was, was fascinating, shot in a style reminiscent of those famous photos of men constructing skyscrapers and working in mines during the 1930s. One of the things that has prevented Battlestar from taking us into this world in the past is its steadfast resolution to avoid technobabble, something that sunk many an episode of Star Trek. Certainly we wouldn’t buy that these massive spaceships run on gasoline or anything like that, so it’s necessary to come up with a cheat like tillium (the fuel used in the episode), but once you introduce such an element, there’s a temptation to explain how it fits into everything, how it’s processed, how the spaceships fill up and so on. Battlestar got around this by keeping everything deliberately vague, as if we were citizens of the Battlestar world and would already know what was going on, as we might when watching a documentary on how gasoline is made.

The episode, written by Anne Cofell Saunders and Jane Espenson, and directed by Wayne Rose, was also wonkier than usual for the series. "Dirty Hands" introduced the idea of Baltar (James Callis) writing something very similar to Mao Zedong’s "Little Red Book," its title ("My Triumphs, My Mistakes") likewise paralleling Adolf Hitler’s "Mein Kampf" ("My Struggle," of course). The book appears to be a manifesto for a pseudo-communist ideology -- or, at the very least, an instigation to class warfare. Since Baltar has usually been portrayed as a sniveling weakling who takes the easiest possible road in every possible situation, it doesn’t seem likely that the writers are suddenly siding with him. But the introduction of a plotline where the rich (admittedly, through circumstances beyond their control) are keeping the poor underfoot, insisting they work seven-day work weeks while never rising above their station is bold to say the least, even if the episode ended a little too conveniently (more on that later).
More here.


There's no time for love, Albert Gore: The Oscars

A couple of days before the Oscars, my mom asked me, "Do you think Martin Scorsese will finally win this year?" Now, I doubt my mom could tell you five movies directed by Martin Scorsese, but she knew the story of how he was Oscar's punching bag, after directing lots and lots of truly great films. And she knew that this year was probably his best shot. That's how central the Scorsese story has been to the Oscar myth in the last few years. Now that he's won, who do we have? Peter O'Toole? Getting up there. Kate Winslet? Too young.

When I first got interested in the Oscars in the early 90s, there were two directors everyone wanted to see win an Oscar -- Spielberg and Scorsese. That was 1993, when both had films in contention -- Schindler's List and The Age of Innocence. Spielberg, of course, won, and went on to be a beloved Oscar icon. Scorsese didn't even get nominated, and then every film he made was anticipated as MAYBE the one that would get him the trophy he had been so long denied.

Until this year, when all involved with The Departed insisted that the film wasn't going to be an awards film. It was just a popcorn entertainment, they insisted. Scorsese didn't even campaign for himself or the film. And, of course, it was the one that won him his trophy. Go figure.

Now, The Departed is second tier Scorsese. It's monstrously entertaining, but its themes are pretty basic (you'll find the movie's mega-supporters claiming its Shakespearean, but, all things considered, the story's just not that complex, kids). But it was easily the class of the five nominees, and second-tier Scorsese is still good filmmaking. Sure, he only won because of the good timing involved in having a fun film in a fairly weak field, but now we cineastes can breathe a little easier.

But what now? When the Red Sox won the World Series, baseball fans could always fall back on the Cubs as the losers celebre. There really isn't another director who has been as overlooked as Scorsese. Peter Weir, maybe, but he's not as stylistically bold or innovative. Terrence Malick certainly deserves an Oscar, but he's never going to be the Academy's cup of tea. The same with Michael Mann. Spike Lee? Maybe, especially with his recent career renaissance. And Ridley Scott? Just. . .no. I think the onus for directors now falls on AMPAS rewarding someone other than a white male. It'll take a while, but it'll happen. So I guess Spike is the best choice.

But enough about that. What else did I think about the show?

Despite the big winners going to the expected players (except for Picture, which was up in the air for most of the campaign season, and Supporting Actor, which went to Alan Arkin in a last minute surge), the whole show had an air of excitement to it, largely because a lot of the smaller categories went to unexpected players. A documentary winning for Original Song? A much-acclaimed foreign film with six nominations winning three technical prizes but then losing foreign film? Dreamgirls managing to lose almost everything it was expected to win? Good times!

These early upsets (especially the Arkin one) gave the whole show an air of anything being possible, and that made a lot of things that could be tedious zip along. It helped that the host was Ellen DeGeneres. She wasn't the funniest host ever (or even, for that matter, funnier than Jon Stewart or Chris Rock), but she was a nice blend of the more ironic comedy of Stewart and Rock and the broader stuff that tends to play well with AMPAS. She managed to put a lot of her material over to the folks at home, but she kept everyone in the auditorium loose. She was both friendly and hip, and that's hard to do. I preferred Stewart as a host overall, but if DeGeneres is invited back, I won't be mad. Hopefully, she'll work on her material a little more, as her opening monologue was a little stiff, and some of her interstitial jokes could have been punchier. But her gag with taking a photo with Clint Eastwood (and getting Steven Spielberg to take it!) was perfect, and that's the sort of loose vibe she can bring to these self-important affairs.

All in all, I thought this was a remarkably well-produced affair. The clips shown before each nominee were great at suggesting the difference between, say, film editing and cinematography. Producer Laura Ziskin synthesized a lot of things I've liked in previous ceremonies (having actors read stage directions from the screenplays, showing the various shots people have to choose from for editing) and also pulling in ideas from other shows (having the actors and directors of the nominated films talk about why they liked those films was also a good choice -- though the Emmys first did it a few years ago). She was a little montage-happy, but I like montages, and these were well-cut, even the much-maligned Michael Mann one, which was a weird attempt to show America through the movies made about it, but worked largely because of the rhythm Mann brought to it. (The only outright dud was that Nancy Meyers montage about screenwriting, which was too long and boring.) Perhaps her best idea was recruiting Errol Morris to talk to the nominees at the top of the show. It was a spirited bit, and the short film was easily the equal of Morris' earlier Oscar effort (the one where people talked about their favorite film). I love Morris, and his disarming piece gave the whole show the right tone of celebration.

Heck, I even liked the silhouette guys, who seemed a little odd to me at first, but quickly grew on me. And how did they do that bullet for The Departed?

In the end, one of the weakest crops of Oscar nominees of the last few years resulted in a very entertaining show. And, what's more, most of the winners were pretty good too.

What did you think?


Oscar Hoss Elections

Due to time conflicts, SDD was not able to live blog the Oscars last night. 'Tis a pity because there was so much snark material provided during the telecast.

As a poor man's replacement, however, I have decided to construct a segment which I'd like to call: Post-Oscar Hoss Elections. Hollywood, as the cliche goes, is one big high school auditorium, and the Academy Awards is Hollywood's prom night. This hoss election was just inevitable.

Best Red Carpet Comeback - Sally Kirkland

For some reason or another, Sally Kirkland did not make red carpet appearances the last two years. Although there were the Bai Lings, ambitiously making their own mark in the red carpet circuit, the void could not be denied - for a veteran, once alive and proud was missing in action. One can only imagine my utmost surprise when Sally made it to this year's Oscar. Draped in what appears to be a multi-colored cape (red, orange, and baby blue), Sally appears more than ready to return to her throne as everyone's fun 'n' flamboyant D-Lister.

Most Cinematically Compatible Outfit - George Miller

Maybe it's just my gender bias talkin', but men's formal attire during these award shows are, quite frankly, very boring: suits, bows, and ties - there's all there is to it. The Oscar-winning director of Happy Feet not only challenged that conventional wisdom, he showed the world that one can be monochromatic AND creative at the same time with his penguin looking-suit.

Best Odd Couple - Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio

Sure, the segment with Al Gore and Leo was a little circle-jerky, especially the acknowledgment of the Oscars going "green" for the first time this year (what did they mean by that?). But this is the Oscars for godssake - self-congratulation is the mandate, not the alternative! Now I know that Big Al has Tipper and Chubby (but cute) Leo has - um, what's the next hot model on the catwalk ? - but I don't think any observant viewer can ignore the chemistry the two had going on. Look at that pic closely. Examine their body language. Notice how Leo's elbow is slightly nudging near Big Al's wrist.

Best Arm Candy - Peter Sarsgaard

Beloved Indie "It" Girl Maggie Gyllenhaal is fastly becoming one of Hollywood's own ingenues. If the Academy's annointment of Maggie as this year's Technical Oscars host wasn't a sufficient hot-off-the-steam warning (last year's hot thang was Rachel McAdams), her highly rumored casting coup as Katie Holmes' replacement in the next Batman should more than suffice. But nevermind Maggie's burgeoning career or her fabulous Hollywood background (hey, nepotism is reality in Tinseltown!), I am immensely jealous of her for nabbing the provocatively ugly/sexy Peter Sarsgaard.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

New paint

Blogger has made it way easier to edit the way this blog looks, links to other sites, etc. If you think we should be linking to you or if you link to us, let us know, and we'll add you.

Also, let us know what you think of the new look. We're too scared to try anything other than a default template.


T.V. on TV: The Black Donnellys, Raines and The Winner

It’s tempting to write off The Black Donnellys (premiering Monday night at 10 p.m. EST on NBC) as The Sopranos Lite. And, to be fair, in many ways it is. It’s got the same greasy thrill of the underworld aesthetic that the superior HBO series has. Its one differing trait – that it traces how a gang of mobsters got to the top instead of starting that chronicle when the mobsters were already at the top – isn’t sufficiently different enough to set it far enough apart from Tony and his crew. Even the larger themes (the importance of family, the gradual corrupting influence of crime) are major Sopranos themes (not to mention major themes of those other two modern documents of the mob – The Godfather movies and Goodfellas). Add in the fact that the series comes from the much-vilified Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco (the Oscar-winning screenwriters of Best Picture winner Crash; Haggis, in addition, was responsible for the script for the previous Best Picture winner, Million Dollar Baby, too), and you have what seems like a recipe for a hubristic failure.

What’s remarkable is that The Black Donnellys isn’t a failure. In fact, it’s really quite good if you can overlook all of the things it cribs from greater works. Haggis’ direction, in particular, is thrillingly cinematic. His camera is always moving, taking the point-of-view of a young mobster on the run or a car about to run over a young child or even taking a Gods-eye view of a beating. It’s not horribly original stuff, but on basic network television, where the same handful of shots seems to turn up on every show, it feels strikingly fresh.

There's more here.